K is for Killer Page 56

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There's nothing as hypnotic as a highway at night. Visual stimulation is reduced to the lines on the road, asphalt zipping past in a series of streaks. Any shrubbery at the side of the road is diminished to a blur. All the trailer trucks were in transit, semis carrying goods that ranged from new cars to furniture, from flammable liquids to flattened cardboard boxes. Off to the side, I caught sight of townlet after townlet encased in darkness, illuminated only by rows of street lamps. An occasional billboard provided visual distraction. At long intervals a truck stop appeared, like an island of light.

I had to stop twice for coffee. Having opted to head back, I now found the drive narcotic and was struggling to stay awake. The radio in the rental car was good company. I flipped from station to station, listening to a talk show host, classical and country music, and countless newscasts. Once upon a time I'd smoked cigarettes, and I could still remember the habit as a way of marking time on car trips. Now I'd rather drive off a bridge than light up. Another hour passed. It was nearly dawn and the sky was turning white, the trees along the road beginning to reclaim their color, now charcoal green and dark chartreuse. Dimly I was aware of the sun coming up like a beachball into my line of vision, the colors of the sky shading up from dark gray to mauve to peach to bright yellow. I had to flip down the visor to keep the glare out of my eyes.

By 9:14 I'd turned in the rental and picked up my VW and I was pulling into a parking place in front of my apartment. My eyes felt itchy and I ached from a weariness that felt like the flu, but at least I was home. I let myself in, checked to see that there were no messages, brushed my teeth, took my shoes off, and fell into bed.

For once, sleep descended like a blow to the head, and I went down, down, down.

I woke at 5:00 p.m. The eight hours should have been adequate, but as starved as I was for sleep, I felt I was dragging myself out of quicksand. I was still struggling to adjust to the inverted pattern my life had taken. In bed at dawn, up again in the afternoon. I was eating breakfast at lunchtime, dinner in the dead of night, though often that meal turned out to be cold cereal or scrambled eggs and toast, which meant I ate breakfast twice. I was vaguely aware of a psychological shift, a change in my perception now that I'd substituted night for day. Like a form of jet lag, my internal clock was no longer synchronized with the rest of the world's. My usual sense of myself was breaking down, and I wondered if a hidden personality might suddenly emerge as if wakened from a long sleep. My day life was calling, and I was curiously reluctant to answer.

I rolled out of bed, dumped my dirty clothes, took a shower, and got dressed. I stopped at a minimart where I grabbed a carton of yogurt and an apple, eating in my car as I headed over to the Keplers'. I could have used a couple more hours of sleep, but I was hoping to talk to Lorna's sisters before their mother woke up. Like me, her days and nights were turned around, and I felt a strange bond with her.

Mace's plumbing truck wasn't parked in the drive this time. I left my VW on the berm, by the white split-rail fence, and moved up the walk to the porch, where I knocked. Trinny answered the door, though it took her a while. "Oh, hi. Mom worked a double shift and she's not up yet."

"I figured as much. She said she'd tuck some information in a box and leave it with Berlyn."

"She's not here right now. She's running some errands. You want to come in and wait?"

"Thanks." I followed her through the small, densely furnished living room to the dining area, which was located at one end of the kitchen. Sunset wasn't far off, and the kitchen windows were getting dark, lending the lighted kitchen an artificial air of warmth. An ironing board had been set up, and the scent of freshly pressed cotton made me long for summer. "Mind if I take a look at Berlyn's desk? If the box is close to the surface, I can go ahead and get it."

Trinny took up the iron again. "It's right in there." She pointed toward the door that led into the den.

One corner of the room apparently doubled as the offices for Kepler Plumbing. I remembered seeing both the desk and the filing cabinet the night I talked to Mace. A banker's box with my name scrawled on top was sitting right in plain sight. For once I resisted any further urge to snoop. I lifted the lid to check the contents. A fragrance wafted up, some delicate combination of citrus and spice. I closed my eyes, wondering if this was Lorna's scent. I'd experienced it before-the very air saturated with someone's characteristic smell. With men it's after-shave, leather, or sweat. With women it's cologne. The house keys Janice had mentioned were sitting on top of a neatly packed collection of file folders, all in alphabetical order: bank statements, past income taxes, dividends, stocks, assorted annual reports. Tucked into one end of the box was a folded cashmere scarf. I pressed the length of it against my face, smelling cut grass, cinnamon, lemon, and clove. I hauled the box back to the kitchen and set it by one of the kitchen chairs, the scarf laid on top, "Is this Lorna's? It was in the box with her stuff."

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